Obama on guns — and his State of the Union finally took off

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union last night was not, I am afraid, a speech to be long remembered.  It was good, but ordinary, although at the same time “extraordinarily ambitious,” as Ezra Klein writes on his Wonkblog:

“Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed tonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it’s been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There’d be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country.”

That is unlikely to happen, as Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus writes, but if Obama meets his most significant and realistic goals – “immigration reform, even modest steps on gun control, an end to the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, a free-trade agreement with Europe and, oh yes, implementation of Obamacare — and manages to keep the economy growing, even if slowly, that’s not a bad list. Plenty of two-term presidents have done worse.”

What Obama mentioned in his speech is clearly popular with the American public, according to Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky but “the Republicans just sat there like statues ignoring” them. They are such crybabies every day about what Obama allegedly does to try to make them look bad. They’re doing plenty well at that themselves.”

“Long gone,” writes The New Yorker’s John Cassidy on his blog Rational Irrationality “is the era when he (Obama) treated Republicans as reasonable men and women with whom he could do business. Nowadays, he is in permanent campaign mode. With the ongoing dispute over taxes and spending still far from decided, he is intent on rallying his supporters whilst depicting his opponents as crazed ideologues and craven defenders of the privileges enjoyed by the ultra-rich. “

Well, ok. Still, in my view Obama’s fifth State of the Union never really took off until the end and when the subject was guns and gun control. “They deserve a vote,” Obama repeated time and again:

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote; the families of Newtown deserve a vote; the families of Aurora deserve a vote; the families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.”

And the President returned to his them from the Inauguration about inclusiveness, about “us” and “we.”

”The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.  They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker thinks that Obama’s urgent message that “they deserve a vote” may come to serve “as the rallying cry for 2013,”  and so “if last night was any indication, the two years to come will be far more confrontational. “

So, no political peace is to be expected in Washington.  But Obama, a much different and more self-confident President than in his first term,  got to say his peace, and he made his troops happy.

Tonight’s State of the Union sets the tone for an uphill fight

The Republican presidential candidates went at each other again last night and on Thursday they will be back for another panel discussion ahead of the Florida primary next Tuesday.

Scarcely a night without Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul … so it will be nice, and very interesting, to hear President Barack Obama tonight in his third State of the Union — an important, perhaps decisive, speech that will set the tone for the November elections.

How is Obama doing so far? Not so well, according to Gallup. His job approval for his third year in office is only 44 per cent, which is lower than that of all presidents since Dwight Eisenhower, with the exception of Jimmy Carter’s 37 percent – and Carter failed to get re-elected 1980.

However, Obama’s 44 percent in 2011 equals Ronald Reagan’s in 1983, and Reagan managed to get re-elected the following year, a fact that can give Obama some encouragement.

The support for Obama has steadily declined during his three years as president, from 57 percent his first year to 47 percent his second and now 44 percent. But Gallup also notes that support for him grew during the last quarter of 2011 and that the coming quarter will be critical for Obama.

All presidents re-elected since Eisenhower had over 50 percent in job approval in their respective election year’s first quarter. The three presidents, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, who failed to be re-elected, all had job approval rates below 50 percent.

This raises the stakes for tonight’s State of the Union.

Gallup’s numbers are fascinating, but if you want to read something beyond the numbers about Obama’s three years as president, I suggest the conservative Obama sympathizer Andrew Sullivan’s recent article in Newsweek, “Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” It is brilliant. Enjoy!